(by Monica Eng and Joel Hood, ChicagoTribune.com) – During a recent lunch period at his elementary school seventh-grader Fernando Dominguez shouted to his lunch mates: “Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?”
Dozens of hands flew in the air and fellow students shouted along: “We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!”
Fernando waved his hand over the crowd and asked a visiting reporter: “Do you see the situation?”
At his public school, Little Village Academy on Chicago’s West Side, students are not allowed to pack lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria (A Little Village Academy student cringes at an enchilada dish served at his school. See photo).
Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.
“Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” Carmona said. “It’s about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception.”
Carmona said she created the policy six years ago after watching students bring “bottles of soda and flaming hot chips” on field trips for their lunch. Although she would not name any other schools that employ such practices, she said it was fairly common.
A Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman said she could not say how many schools prohibit packed lunches and that decision is left to the judgment of the principals.
“While there is no formal policy, principals use common sense judgment based on their individual school environments,” Monique Bond wrote in an email. “In this case, this principal is encouraging the healthier choices and attempting to make an impact that extends beyond the classroom.”
Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district’s food provider, Chartwells-Thompson. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.
At Little Village, most students must take the meals served in the cafeteria or go hungry or both. During a recent visit to the school, dozens of students took the lunch but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten. Though [the Chicago Public Schools] has improved the nutritional quality of its meals this year, it also has seen a drop-off in meal participation among students, many of whom say the food tastes bad.
“Some of the kids don’t like the food they give at our school for lunch or breakfast,” said Little Village parent Erica Martinez. “So it would be a good idea if they could bring their lunch so they could at least eat something.”
“(My grandson) is really picky about what he eats,” said Anna Torrez, who was picking up the boy from school. “I think they should be able to bring their lunch. Other schools let them. But at this school, they don’t.”
But parent Miguel Medina said he thinks the “no home lunch policy” is a good one. “The school food is very healthy,” he said, “and when they bring the food from home, there is no control over the food.”
At Claremont Academy Elementary School on the South Side, officials allow packed lunches but confiscate any snacks loaded with sugar or salt. (They often are returned after school.) Principal Rebecca Stinson said that though students may not like it, she has yet to hear a parent complain.
“The kids may have money or earn money and (buy junk food) without their parents’ knowledge,” Stinson said, adding that most parents expect that the school will look out for their children.
For many [Chicago Public School] parents, the idea of forbidding home-packed lunches would be unthinkable. If their children do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals, such a policy would require them to pay $2.25 a day for food they don’t necessarily like.
“We don’t spend anywhere close to that on my son’s daily intake of a sandwich…, Goldfish crackers and milk,” education policy professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach wrote in an email. Her son attends Nettelhorst Elementary School in Lakeview. “Not only would mandatory school lunches worsen the dietary quality of most kids’ lunches at Nettelhorst, but it would also cost more out of pocket to most parents! There is no chance the parents would stand for that.”
1. a) What options do students at Chicago’s Little Village Academy public school have for lunch?
b) What do students want to do regarding their lunch?
2. Why did Principal Elsa Carmona create the lunch policy she has implemented at Little Village?
3. How does Chicago Schools spokesperson Monique Bond defend the principal’s lunch policy?
4. What are Principal Carmona and Ms. Bond implying about their students’ parents?
5. Who benefits financially from the Little Village lunch policy?
6. a) Why don’t students like the school lunches?
b) What do many students do with the school lunches?
c) There is no mention in the article of how the principal responds to students who refuse to eat the lunch provided. How does their response to the lunch defeat the principal’s stated reason for requiring students to eat the cafeteria food?
7. If the principal really believes that parents are clueless/inept about nutrition, what would be a better solution to the problem?
8. a) Ask a parent what he/she ate/drank for lunch when in school.
b) Ask a parent what he/she thinks of the principal’s lunch policy (and to explain his/her answer): is the principal conscientious or overreaching?
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